D&D 5e: Dwarf Race Guide

D&D 5e: Dwarf Race Guide

The Elephant in the Room: The Dwarf

Intro

“…And my axe!” – Gimli, son of Gloin.

When it comes right down to it, many people avoid playing the Dwarf. They are seen as too bland, too cliched, or too Scottish (again, too cliched. Blandness would indicate they were British). But, they couldn’t be more wrong. It doesn’t take a deep Google search to see that the history of the Dwarf is long and complex, so much so that it turns into Old English and Old Norse the further back you go. They were feared and worshiped. In fantasy, dwarves deserve at least a bit of reverence. 

Now, depending on how Dwarves are handled in your game, maybe they are silly Scotsman, or overly serious gold-hoarders, or perhaps they have a rich cultural history that carves new ground upon which they can stand proudly and distinct from old tropes. Hereafter, we’re going to look at how you can bring some Dwarven pride to the table and show people that the not-so-little folk of the world are a force to be reckoned with.

Guide Key

Epic

Good

Meh

Bad

Dwarf Traits

— ASI:  + 2 CON. Excellent. Your hardiness really comes through in this Ability Score. Is it the DEX god stat? No, but realistically, you’re leaning into the Dwarf because they have a better chance of sticking around for a longer period of time.

— Age: Matured by 50, and live up to about 350

— Alignment: Tend toward lawful societies. And are usually good.

— Size: Between 4 and 5 feet tall, averaging 150 pounds, the Dwarf is a Medium creature. It’s the standard. 

— Speed: 25ft (but it is not reduced in Heavy Armor). We’re not happy about it, but it’s not the end of the world here. Chances are you’ll be up and close, so your main task is to figure out how to get in, not necessarily how to get out.

— Darkvision: You’ve got it out to 60ft in dim light as if it were bright, and in total darkness you don’t discern color.

— Dwarven Resilience: Advantage on saving throws to being poisoned is pretty amazing and I’ll never pass up resistance to poison damage when I can get it.

— Dwarven Combat Training: Some bonus proficiencies in some fairly common weapons (i.e. battleaxes, handaxes, light hammers, and warhammer). Bashy dwarf stuff.

— Tool Proficiency: Artisan tools; one of your choosing.  Smith’s, Brewer’s, or Mason’s. Really up to you here. When I pick these I like to think of this as my character’s old profession or a fun hobby they picked up over the years.

— Stonecunning: If you don’t have proficiency in History, you get it for free (and doubled at that) when it comes to stone work. Pretty cool if your DM has a lot of story in the world based on stone work. However, it might never be used. Ever.

— Languages: Common and Dwarvish. 

Dwarf Subraces

Hill (PHB)

— ASI: +1 WIS

— Dwarven Toughness: An additional hit point every level doesn’t feel like a lot early on, but it can make a massive difference down the line. And truly, 1 HP can be the difference between life and death saves.

Mountain (PHB)

— ASI: +2 STR. Holy cow. Two +2 Ability Score Improvements. Unbeatable.

— Dwarven Armor Training: Light and medium armor proficiency. Meh if you’re going into a martial class. Awesome if you’re going spellcaster.

Duergar (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

— ASI: +1 STR 

— Superior Darkvision: Like darkvision, but up to 120 feet. Glorious. 

— Extra Language: Undercommon is decently common. Highly useful in the right situation.

— Duergar Resilience: I love this. Advantage on being charmed/paralyzed is massive. No one wants control of their character taken away. And having advantage against picking out illusions can be great, but talk to your DM and make sure he’s aware that you have this ability. It’s an easy thing to miss.

— Duergar Magic: You get a bunch of really useful spells baked into the race. Enlarge/Reduce are a whole lot of fun, so grabbing those at third level is great especially if you aren’t a spellcaster. Fifth level invisibility is great. Only downside is that Intelligence is your spellcasting ability. You’re not getting intelligence here.

— Sunlight Sensitivity: When dealing with things directly in the sun, disadvantage on attack rolls and perception checks. If you plan on going outside, wear shades.

Mark of Warding

— ASI: +1 INT. A Dwarf with INT. Basically the best thing since sliced bread. Might not be a +2, but this is epic for a Dwarf. It opens a whole new world for them.

— Warder’s Intuition: An extra d4 to Investigation checks and thieves’ tools will always come in handy. Makes a good case for being a less dex-y rogue, doesn’t it?

— Wards and Seals: Decent spells. Alarm can come in handy when you need to rest and mage armor can pull its weight if you ever need to armor up in a pinch.

— Spells of the Mark: Fairly situational stuff. You can find use for just about all of these, but they won’t make appearances every session.

Best Classes and Archetypes for Dwarf

I’ll save you some time and pair the archetypes with my preferred subrace combination. At the end of the day, the reasoning comes down to three things:

 

1) Does the race satisfy the expectations of the class?

2) Does the class synergize with subclass abilities?

3) How easy would it be to get started with this race-class/subclass combo?

 

You can try to turn D&D 5e into as much of an exact science as you want, but at the end of the day, you need to figure out what works best for your playstyle, your campaign, and your playgroup. Alrighty, here we go!

Artificer

When it comes to the classes that really want you to lean into INT, you’ll almost always want to be going Mark of Warding. This goes for the Artificer as well as any other (see The Wizard). Your CON means you’ll have much better chances of sticking around a lot longer than some of your compatriots. 

Mark of Warding

Alchemist: When it comes to the Alchemist, you really want a +2 INT if you want to push it to its upper limits. You’re not looking to ‘get in there’ like the Dwarf wants to. 

Artillerist: Contrary to what the name might suggest, you’re not trying to be super DEX-y. While it wouldn’t hurt, you really want the INT. Why is this good though? The Artillerist is all about positioning, and with a +2 CON you’re in a better spot yourself to survive long enough to get to the right place.

Battle Smith: Like the Alchemist, you really need that +2 INT to milk every last drop out of the Battle Smith. It wouldn’t be bad, just not the best combo. Gnome or the Vedalken is a much better option.

Mountain

Armorer: Oh, beautiful day when a Thunder Gauntleted Dwarf cracks open the skulls of all who would oppose the beneficent ends of SCIENCE! The +2 STR of the Mountain Dwarf means you don’t need to swap STR based damage to INT. It’s “fine” if you go Duergar.

Barbarian

The Dwarven Barbarian. A classic D&D combination that goes back decades. Fall in love with taking damage and dishing it out ten-fold with the Dwarven Barbarian.

Hill

Ancestral Guardian: You need that WIS for mid-level play as an AG Barbarian. Really solid team player over all. Your durability means you can focus your skills to give resistance to your party members.

Mountain

Battlerager: Specifically restricted to Dwarves. The CON is good for Temporary Hit Points, but this guy is kind of sad damage wise.

Beast: Form of the Beast offers the best versatility within the Barbarian class. Really awesome ways to switch up from self-sustaining, to wild offense, to tanking every hit. Awesome. Also, the idea of a Dwarf with a tail is amusing.

Berserker: It’s fine. Not amazing, not great, just fine. 

Depths: Take it only if you plan on spending more than a year’s worth of time playing sessions in an underwater campaign. Otherwise, it’s not worth your time. 

Juggernaut: Perfect fit. Barbarians break things. Dwarves break things (I assume. I may be stereotyping here. Sorry). 

Storm Herald: A nice multi-path option that is more flexible than Totem Warrior. Solid damage, utility, and environment interaction. No one will be mad if the party has a Storm Herald.

Totem Warrior – Bear: You won’t go down because barely anything will be able to scratch you.

Totem Warrior – Eagle: Move through the battlefield with grace. Also, see for miles!

Totem Warrior – Elk: Solid choice. But I’d pick Bear before I picked anything else.

Totem Warrior – Tiger: Jumping around is great, but this is my least favorite Totem Path. 

Totem Warrior – Wolf: Set up your party members for great success and hit hard at the same time.

Wild Magic: Loves the High CON. Very fun subclass with battlefield reshaping possibilities each time you rage.

Zealot: Nigh unkillable. Your damage will be solid just because people can’t take you down. Enjoy.


Bard

No Charisma, No Bard. ‘Nuff said. At least go Hill for the WIS boost. You might not be able to make it as a good Bard, but you can at least survive on the streets.

Hill

Creation: Very fun to play, but low CHA complicates an already complicated subclass. Pass.

Eloquence: The Bard’s bard. NEEDS HIGH CHA. Pass.

Glamour: Flashy with nothing to back it up. Pass.

Lore: Very skill heavy. You might be able to lean into non-CHA based skills, but still… Pass.

Maestro: Needs the Hill Dwarf’s WIS. Good options, but doesn’t shine in Dwarven hands… Pass.

Valor: I’d pass on this even with a +2 CHA race. PASS!

Whispers: Needs a +2 CHA for good spell save DCs. Do you have that? Pass.

Mountain or Duergar

Swords: Maybe not awful. You can get by dealing STR damage. 

Blood Hunter

Since you’ll be out and about slaying vile creatures haunting villages and terrorizing civilizations, the Dwarf offers a lot to the Blood Hunter. Good CON. Decent STR or INT subraces that can help determine how you want to play.

Mark of Warding or Duergar

Ghostslayer: Really loves fighting undead. High CON is useful here. A Duergar’s advantage against Paralysis is great.

Mutant: Since you start with resistance to poison, picking up immunity is nice, but I recommend trying to avoid redundancy where possible.

Mountain or Duergar

Lycan: Loves a high STR or DEX. 

Hill

Profane Soul: Must have the bonus WIS for your Hemocraft modifier. Your spells rely on it heavily.

Cleric

The Hill Dwarf may be vanilla, but it gets the job done for the Dwarf. They make for natural clerics that are hard to beat in a game that has no +2 WIS races.

Hill

Arcana: Basically a WIS based Wizard with Cleric spells. Not bad.

Blood: Great all around. Loves a high WIS score and gives great domain spells. 

Death: Be a decent damage dealer in melee or ranged while being highly survivable. It’s good.

Forge: Thematically they are the perfect fit. If you really want to lean into the theme, go Duergar or Hill, but either way, they’re pretty epic.

Grave: A Death Cleric that couldn’t commit. Just kidding, of course. Bonus action spare the dying with the rest of the Cleric options, your party will love you.

Knowledge: Know everything. Solid. You may want a higher INT just for those INT based skills.

Life: Classic cleric. Love. You’ll be around to save the day because of your Dwarven Toughness too.

Light: Solid pick. Nothing big to be said here beyond you’ll literally glow with power.

Nature: Great Cleric/Druid combo without having to multiclass.

Order: Overall, offers a lot of interesting tools that jive with the Dwarf’s survivability. Voice of Authority may be one of the better level 1 abilities in the game.

Peace: …It’s kind of epic. You can break a lot of encounters with this guy. DM’s beware.

Tempest: I just love it. It feels right! 

Trickery: A good Cleric/Rogue combo. Leagues better than the Arcane Trickster, in my humble opinion. 

Twilight: Advantage on Initiative, gaining flight, and pumping the AC of the party. Count me in.

War: A good Cleric/Fighter combo. Stronger pick than the Eldritch Knight as far as spell versatility goes. 

Druid

Hill all the way for the WIS bonus. Dwarves love the earth. The uncaring rock isn’t exempt from deserving a caretaker.

Hill

Dreams: Great heals and safe rests. Pump up your WIS and teleport you and your allies all over.

Land: Just outpaced by better druids at this point. Not bad, just not first draft. 

Moon: Turning into a bear is never going out of style. And a Dwarf Bear is a solid choice.

Shepherd: Great summoning. Just fine if you’re not planning to take all the summon X spells.

Spores: Adds survivability on top of the already tough Dwarf. Does have some redundancy with resistances, but adds more than just poison. Solid.

Stars: Right now this is my first pick for Dwarf Druid. Great spells (see Guiding Bolt) and really great all-rounder that keep up with their allies throughout the entire leveling process. 

Wildfire: Too much focus on fire damage with loads of enemies being resistant to fire. 

Fighter

With no natural DEX boost, your Dwarven fighter loses out on a big way to play the game. BUT that doesn’t mean you’re out for the count. A Mountain Dwarf or a Duergar are the best way to go here. Mountain dwarf for that beautiful +2 STR, or the Duergar for +1 STR and a plethora of strong race features.

Mountain or Duergar

Battle Master: Solid all-rounder. Can’t really go wrong.

Cavalier: Decent way to improve a slow dwarf’s mobility issues. But, not the strongest subclass out there.

Champion: Feels a little old, but provides decent utility and has an expanded crit range.

Echo Knight: Takes some experimenting, but very powerful in the long run.

Gunslinger: Sad DEX noises. But a gunslinging Dwarf is pretty tight. Chat with your DM if they’re cool about changing Ability Score Improvements. 

Purple Dragon Knight: Might be locked depending on your DM’s preferences. Nice class to help the party as you share class features like Second Wind and Indomitable.

Renegade: Sad DEX noises. Again, a gun wielding Dwarf is undeniably cool. If you want to go this way, chat with your DM about accommodations. Otherwise, just be an Artificer Artillerist or Armorer.

Rune Knight: Get big, pick your timing to activate your runes, and have a great time. Very flavorful class, but not a lot of the options you pick feel like they are real options. (You unlock 5 out of 6 runes anyway… come one Wizards! More options please!)

Samurai: Awesome offensive specialist with solid social options. Not a bad choice.

Mark of Warding

Arcane Archer: Appreciates the INT. That’s about it. 

Eldritch Knight: Appreciates the INT. That’s about it.

Psi Warrior: Appreciates the INT. That’s about it.


Monk

While most Monks want DEX, using STR is not out of the question. Hill is absolutely the way to go for the WIS bonus. 

Hill

Ascendant Dragon: Very versatile dragon themed monk. No qualms.

Astral Self: Punch people with who you are “on the inside”. No qualms.

Cobalt Soul: Punch the truth out of people. No qualms.

Drunken Master: Your liver is your strength. No qualms.

Four Elements: Punch with the power of earth, wind, water, and fire. No qualms.

Kensei: Kind of perfect really. No Qualms. Realistically, you could go Mountain here for the bonus STR. 

Long Death: Avoid death through punches. No qualms.

Mercy: Heal through Punches? No qualms?

Open Hand: Classic Monk. No qualms. 

Sun Soul: Goku. No qualms.

Duergar

Shadow: Be the shadow within the darkness. No qualms

Paladin

Like the fighter having no natural DEX bonus is sad. What’s worse is having no natural CHA bonus. Paladin’s aren’t off the table for Dwarves, they just might not be your first pick. You’ll want to go Mountain for the +2 STR. Lean into what strengths you have, right?

Mountain

Ancients: Druid Paladin… just go Druid or Nature Cleric.

Conquest: Needs High CHA for returning damage. Otherwise, it can be a strong subclass.

Crown: Awesome tanking abilities. Loves being close to allies. You’ll want to make sure they don’t wander off too far; you might not catch up.

Devotion: Lean into STR and you’ll be okay.

Glory: Wants to cast a lot of Concentration spells. You CON will be beneficial here, but you’ll need CHA to make those spells effective.

Oathbreaker: One of the better Paladin subclasses out there. Needs the High CHA.

Open Sea: Unless you’re IN THE OCEAN or at sea for a long time, skip it.

Redemption: Rebuke the Violent against heavy hitters is a “chef’s kiss”. Wants to play socially (i.e. CHA).

Vengeance: Hits hard. You need CHA.

Watchers: Avoid it unless you KNOW you’re dealing with extraplanar entities. 

Ranger

A Dwarven ranger is not a bad way to go by any stretch. You may feel split though between the bonus WIS of Hill and the additional STR offered by the Mountain/Duergar. These subclasses can really go either way. However, Mark of Warding doesn’t really fit here.

Hill, Mountain, or Duergar

Beast Master: Just a skippable subclass as a whole, for the most part. It Can be fun flavor, but just doesn’t work as nicely as you’d like.

Drakewarden: Very cool. Most of your progress won’t be focused on you, but your DRAGON COMPANION. Pretty sick. But you have some high damage options available in the mid to late game.

Fey Wanderer: Things get weird out there. Why not be weird with them? Adding WIS to CHA checks would otherwise be awesome, but your CHA sucks. Skip.

Gloom Stalker: A Dwarf Gloom Stalker will tear apart enemies in seconds. Be afraid.

Horizon Walker: Cares about Planar campaigns which might be too situational. However, you do get the ability to turn into X-Men’s Nightcrawler and teleport before making attacks (and then getting a BONUS ATTACK for making multiple teleporting attacks). Sick. 

Hunter: Just fine. Nothing to write home about, but you’ll have a good time. Basic enough for first timers that don’t want to be overwhelmed.

Monster Slayer: Loves getting grappled. Your bonus damage is sad. Eventually gets to make saving throws with attacks. Overall, not the best pick, but usable. 

Swarmkeeper: Loves a high WIS for spell saves. The abilities are decent and the theme is cool, but feels fairly lackluster in the end.

Rogue

You might not have DEX (let’s get our tears out of the way now), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a punchier approach to the Rogue. Plus, the Mark of Warding Dwarf is a great way to get around some of the Dwarf’s past gaps. Hill is alright to pick as well if you want some extra toughness and WIS. Mountain opens up the path of the uncommon, but viable STR rogue. 

Mark of Warding

Arcane Trickster: Absolutely needs INT. Have fun tricking people… arcanely…

Inquisitive: Wants the WIS, but enjoys the INT too. 1d4 to Investigation Checks, nice.

Hill or Mountain

Assassin: A brutish assassin is still an assassin. 

Mastermind: Master of Tactics is one of the best abilities in the game. Help as a bonus action… always.

Phantom: You don’t hurt having any low score in particular. Tokens of the Departed keeps you running more than anything else. Solid pick. 

Scout: A perfect fit for a bashy Rogue. Scout might not be the best name for what you are though. Consider yourself The Frontline.

Soulknife: Wants DEX too much.

Swashbuckler: Nice and mobile. Avoids Opportunity Attacks. Not bad taking a STR route, but really cares about CHA for bonuses to initiative and late game play

Thief: Feels wrong to play this without DEX. 

Sorcerer

I find your lack of CHA disturbing. High CON is awesome for concentration, but this is not the place to flex it. Go Duergar for the Utility and bonus spells.

Duergar

Aberrant Mind: Abilities are awesome, but you need CHA!

Clockwork Soul: Take it for the level one ability and then get out! A reaction to negate advantage/disadvantage is huge.

Divine Soul: Just be a cleric.

Draconic Bloodline: Just be a Drakenwarden or an Ascendant Dragon

Rune Child: Be a Rune Knight.

Shadow Sorcery: Be a Twilight Druid or a Shadow Monk.

Storm Sorcery: I love this subclass, but I have to say pass. Be a Tempest Cleric or a Storm Herald Barbarian.

Wild Magic: Be a Wild Magic Barbarian.

Warlock

No CHA? No go! Again, high CON is awesome for concentration, but this is not the right time nor place for it. Go Duergar for the Utility and bonus spells.

Duergar

Archfey: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Celestial: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Fathomless: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Fiend: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Genie: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Great Old One: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Hexblade: You’ll survive but you won’t have a good time.

Undying: You’ll really survive but you won’t have a good time.

Wizard

Mark of Warding is the way to go. You need that INT. While there are a few +2 INT races out there, it’s okay to go Dwarf. And, honestly, a Dwarf is not a bad pick for a Wizard now. The CON bonus goes a big way to making your life (and your spells’ lives) much easier. Those +2 INT races don’t also get that massive +2 CON.

Mark of Warding

Abjuration: Defend your party. Solid.

Artificer: Stop. Stop it. Be an actual Artificer. There is a class for that now.

Bladesinging: Might be locked to you depending on your DM. But if you want to take up an Elf tradition as a Dwarf, go for it. Just make sure it is cultural appreciation, not appropriation.

Chronurgy Magic: Forced rerolls and picking outcomes… out of this world good. And it only gets better from there.

Conjuration: Solid summons in the late game. 

Divination: Top Tier Wizard from the Player’s Handbook. Amazing. Prerolling and selecting outcomes is next level.

Enchantment: Best way for your Dwarf to get the feel of captivating people like a Bard. Anyone else should just be a bard.

Evocation: Pure power.

Graviturgy Magic: While it has good tools, they require really tight timing to get the most out of them while avoiding party members. Be careful, and this can be pretty solid. 

Illusion: Ehhhhh. Just be a gnome at this point. 

Necromancy: Death Cleric. It’s better for you.

Order of Scribes: Kind of awesome if you’re a spell hoarder. Like… Ash Ketchum levels of wanting to catch ‘em all. 

Transmutation: Live your own [Wizard’s Name Here] and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

War Magic: Best to just be a War Cleric… or like a Fighter or Barbarian or something. BUT, you do you. 

Racial Feats/Best Feats

Dwarf Racial Feats

— Dwarven Fortitude: Rapidly loses value as you level up and the amount of healing becomes negligible.

— Squat Nimbleness: A little boost to DEX could go a long way depending on the build, but realistically, if you wanted a boost, just take the Ability Score Improvement.

General Feats

— Great Weapon Master: Oh baby. This is a must have on any two-handed melee weapon build. Put it on your barbarian. On your fighter. On your Kensei Monk. Just, YES! 

— Polearm Master: If you’re fighting with Polearms then this is a top tier pick as well. Mix it with Sentinel for a true nightmare.

— Mobile: I’m never mad at mobile, but it might not fit for some Dwarf builds that are looking to just stand and deliver.

Sage Gamers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.